Learner Success Means Closing Equity Gaps for Iowa State University Through the ACE Learner Success Lab

​​October 2022 

​Iowa State University (ISU) is a large, public land-grant research institution in Ames, Iowa that offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies programs. ISU places a strong emphasis on practical learning and provides their learners with opportunities to engage in real-world experiences and cutting-edge research. They joined the ACE Learner Success Laboratory (LSL) as a member of the inaugural cohort in 2020 to holistically examine and expand the institution’s definition of success, better serve a broader and more diverse learner demographic, and increase learner resiliency and persistence.  ​


At the start of ISU’s experience in the LSL, the university was also undertaking a quality improvement initiative as required by the Higher Learning Commission. By anchoring their LSL efforts within the structure of the quality improvement initiative, ISU’s primary goal was to craft a plan that would help close equity gaps with respect to graduation and retention rates. As a relatively decentralized institution, ISU aimed to create cross-campus teams to identify ways to more effectively align academic support, student support, and career services programs to address long-term workforce needs and develop a future-forward view of learner outcomes and success.  


​After a rigorous and widespread data collection and self-reflection period facilitated by the LSL process and incorporating input from a breadth of campus representatives, the LSL leadership at ISU distilled specific recommendations. These recommendations align with the three strategic lenses of the ACE Model for Comprehensive Learner Success​, as outlined here.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

  • ​​Launch a university-wide retention initiative that enables ISU to achieve its goal of being the most student-centric research institution by:  
    • ​Identifying a shared definition of student success
    • Establishing common metrics​
    • ​​Creating regular opportunities to examine and discuss progress and hurdles
    • Committing the institution to achieve specific goals in the next 10 years by creating incentives to reduce the equity gap
  • ​Establish graduation and retention goals and develop a dashboard to track progress
  • Integrate disaggregated retention targets and plans into the university strategic enrollment planning efforts

​Data-Informed Decision-Making 

  • ​​​Ensure that institutional goals are well articulated, strategic choices are grounded in evidence, and learner success outcomes are formally assessed
  • Have systems in place to help academic leaders identify barriers to learner success across the institution

​Agility and Transformation 

  • ​​​Enhance and sustain ISU’s capacity to evolve structures and practices to anticipate or respond to disruptive forces
  • Establish processes to continuously align and integrate policies and initiatives that serve diverse learner populations, enhance their value proposition, and fulfill their mission
  • Create a student success taskforce or leadership position to annually gather key metrics on student success outcomes, brief the ISU community on these metrics, and coordinate other learner success project recommendations
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to effectively support the needs of new majority learners; one element of this should be to regularly collect and monitor data on student belonging, which can then be used to develop and implement evidence-based programs to improve student belonging


​One of the primary outcomes and accomplishments for ISU in going through the LSL process was the ability to catalyze a broad swath of the campus community and bring nearly 70 faculty members, staff, administrators, and students into the fold. Through this collaborative effort, ISU was able to produce a roadmap for improving learner success over the coming years. ISU’s final report addresses the reduction of equity gaps, provides a framework for continuous institutional improvement and transformation, and has directly informed much of the university’s strategic planning process—resulting in a new nine-year plan focused squarely on equitable learner success. 

​“The ACE Learner Success Lab offered us a structured process to translate our vision for student success to an implementable plan.”—Shawn Boyne, Director of Academic Quality and Undergraduate Education, Iowa State University 


​The primary piece of advice from ISU’s Lab leadership team to institutions that are considering—or preparing for—participation in the ACE Learner Success Lab is for institutions to be sure to make use of the benchmarking data and other resources provided through the LSL to help round out their examination of the work being done by other institutions to boost student success. 

​The ACE Learner Success Lab 

​The Learner Success Lab is an inclusive learning community that integrates evidence-based practices for persistence and completion, life design and career exploration, and workforce skills development to assist participating institutions in developing a comprehensive strategy for learner success.